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Television

UnREAL: Season 2, Episode 2 - "Insurgent"

J.M. Suarez

Season two of UnREAL isn’t shying away from the difficult or the unpleasant.


UnREAL

Airtime: Mondays, 10pm
Cast: Shiri Appleby, Constance Zimmer, Craig Bierko, Genevieve Buechner, B.J. Britt, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Josh Kelly, Denee Benton, Lindsay Musil, Kim Matula, Monica Barbaro, Christopher Cousins, Michael Rady, Amy Hill
Subtitle: Season 2, Episode 2 - "Insurgent"
Network: Lifetime
Air date: 2016-06-13
Amazon
Rachel: You knew the guy was black.

Beth Ann: I didn’t know that it was Darius Beck. We love him… Like, worship him. He is literally my favorite quarterback ever. You got to find my bag. I need to change.

UnREAL;s second season is setting up a great deal, as was evident in the last episode. This week focuses on the developing cracks in Quinn (Constance Zimmer) and Rachel's (Shiri Appleby) relationship that started showing at the end of "War". Combined with Darius's (B.J. Britt) official introduction on Everlasting, "Insurgent" maintains a steady tension throughout and offers plenty of material to explore.

Quinn and Rachel's relationship has never been an easy one. Often fraught, they've also bonded closely over the unique pressures and expectations of their jobs. It's always been complex and messy and difficult to pin down, but Quinn and Rachel are at the core of both shows. Certainly, they’re the central relationship of UnREAL, but they are also the main relationship in the production of Everlasting. Neither show would exist without the two, and the ways in which this episode further divides Quinn and Rachel points to the major conflict of the season.

Quinn’s increasing control over the show leaves Rachel floundering and unsure of her own role now that she's essentially demoted to her old job. Although Quinn has promised to hand back the show to Rachel once Chet's (Craig Bierko) no longer in the picture, they have a heated exchange (in front of their staff, no less) in which Quinn berates Rachel for failing to oust Chet immediately ("You're great until you’re not"). It’s the kind of cutting remark that’s Quinn's specialty, while also extremely effective in demoralizing Rachel. In many ways, Quinn's treatment of Rachel is very much in line with their history. Quinn's unforgiving and thoughtless dealings with almost everyone she comes in contact with is integral to her character, but it's really only with Rachel that she exhibits any supportive behavior.

Rachel’s continued struggle to reconcile her job, and all the ethical compromises it requires, has been at the heart of her character since the beginning. While it looked like she was on a path to escaping Everlasting, it now seems out of reach. Adding to her stress are the repeated mentions of her mother's attempts to get in touch, especially when they come from Jeremy (Josh Kelly) or Dr. Wagerstein (Amy Hill).

As was already alluded to in the premiere, much of Everlasting's focus this season will be on the issues of race that Quinn and Rachel have deliberately created in casting. "Insurgent" doesn't back down from the ugliness that comes from confronting these issues, and UnREAL treats them much like the rest of the show: it acknowledges the complexities and challenges, but confronts them nonetheless.

In a perfect representation of these issues, one of the women vying for Darius' affections is Beth Ann (Lindsay Musil), a Southern belle-type who dons a Confederate flag bikini to meet him. She initially balks at wearing the suit, only to avoid confrontation, but capitulates to Rachel's manipulations. It's only when Darius is revealed as the suitor that Beth Ann regrets her decision, although not because he's black, but because he happens to be her favorite football player. Rachel’s sarcastic "Racism is so confusing, isn't it?" may be the line of the season. In contrast, Ruby (Denee Benton) wears an "I Can't Breathe" t-shirt over her bikini. They're two confrontational moments, intended or not, and the ways in which their respective meetings with Darius go is telling.

As the Everlasting drama starts onscreen, the constant behind the scenes crises take on a new level once Chet starts hijacking crew members to help him make his version of the show. The clearly unsustainable plan to make two versions of the show to present to Gary (Christopher Cousins) quickly falls apart. Not only does it have the crew taking sides and Quinn and Chet sabotaging each other, but Rachel’s stuck in the middle with no real power. Her decision to seek out Gary in a bid to take control predictably backfires. Instead, Gary brings in Coleman Wasserman (Michael Rady) to take over the show, and he immediately sides with Chet. It’s not only a blow to Rachel, but to Quinn, and one which will surely damage their relationship.

UnREAL isn't shying away from the difficult or the unpleasant. It's always been unflinching in its portrayal of the cutthroat world of reality television, but this season, it's stretching itself to tackle weightier subjects and so far, the results are compelling.

8

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